How to Set Up a Highline When Camping with Horses and Mules

Setting Up a Highline For Safety and Ease of Use

highlineYour animals are important. If they wander away you’ll have a heavy load, and a long walk to look forward to. How to safely secure your stock is one of the biggest questions horse and mule campers have. There are many options and for ease of use, low cost, and simplicity, a highline is your best bet. Highlines are also lightweight and multi functional which make them a staple for packers and others who spend time in the backcountry as well as those of us who stay closer to the trailhead.

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What is a Highline?

highline2A highline is just a rope stretched tightly between two trees. You then tie your stock to the rope. Of course there’s a little bit more to it but, essentially, this is all there is to it. Instead of wrapping the rope around the trees, use Tree Saver Straps to prevent the trees from being girdled and dying. (BTW – Tree Savers are required in many wilderness areas.)


Setting up a Highline by the Numbers

  1. Choose an area that won’t be unduly harmed by stock – Make sure the ground is clear of any debris that could injure your stock if they lay down or choose to roll.
  2. Find two live trees at least 12″inches in diameter and 15 to 20 feet apart – Make sure there are no branches to injure your horse and NEVER tie to dead trees.
  3. Place one Tree Saver Strap and rope as high as you can reach (7 feet is preferred).
  4. Stretch the rope (3/8 polyester is strong and doesn’t stretch) between the two trees.
  5. Secure the rope to one Tree Saver with a quick release bowline knot.
  6. If using knot eliminators place them now while the line is loose.  Leave 7 feet, or more, space between each horse.
  7. Create a loop in the line about seven feet from the unattached tree – Making a loop will allow you to have a 2:1 pulley system for stretching your line MUCH tighter than you could do on your own.
  8. Run the remainder of the line through the second Tree Saver Strap and back to pass through the loop in your line. Using a carabineer will reduce friction that can fray your rope.
  9. Keep the line tight with a half hitch.
  10. Tuck any remaining line out of reach of your stock animals
  11. Before leaving the campsite, be sure to fill in any pawed holes and spread the piles of manure. If your animal constantly digs use hobbles.
  12. NOTE – Keep stock from chewing, and damaging, trees by tying them at least 7 feet from any tree.

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highline3How Much Lead Rope?

When in camp and you can keep an eye on them, give your stock just enough lead rope to get their heads to the ground. At night, or when you have to leave them unattended, shorten the leads significantly to prevent them from being able to get a leg over the rope. If you are feeding grain or hay cubes from a feedbag, you can leave your stock tied to the horse highline and still fit the feedbag over their heads.

Highlines are a simple, lightweight solution for containing your stock animals (horses and mules) in the backcountry, or trailhead horse camp, and leave very little evidence that you have been there when set up correctly.